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6 Famous Folk Who Once Drove Taxis

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In some cities, driving a taxi is considered an important, valued, even elevated vocation. In London, for example, you need to study and train for about three years before you can get a license. Three fourths of those who begin the taxi training course, never make it to the end. Because of the seriousness with which they take the job, London cab drivers have even been the subjects of brain studies, which have discovered that the cabbies have a larger hippocampus compared with other people.

Unfortunately, here, on the other side of the pond, cabbies are usually looked down upon. But maybe this list of famous folk who spent time driving taxis will help change the image a little.

1. Larry David

larrydavid-thumb-257x278Who can't picture the misanthropic funny-man behind Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm driving a taxi? In truth, David's early career was peppered with a whole host of odd jobs, including limousine driver and--strapped into your parachutes?--bra salesman! Pretty appropriate career choice for the real life George Costanza, eh?

Now Hail This: When David worked as a cabbie, he was living across the hall from Kenny Kramer, who would later serve as the inspiration for Michael Richards' character on Seinfeld.

2. David Mamet

davidmamet460The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright credits his brief period as a Chicago cab driver as on-the-job training for his later career as a writer. Mamet often decried the notion that real writers were trained in the halls of Ivy League institutions and looked to "knockaround guys" like Jack London, Nelson Algren and Ernest Hemingway as his inspiration.

Now Hail This: When it comes to writing, Mamet values life experience over technique and will often compare his favorite writers to cab drivers.

3. Danny Glover

danny-gloverIn 1999, the actor best known for playing an over-the-hill cop in the Lethal Weapon movies, used his leverage as a former San Francisco cab driver to raise awareness about African Americans being passed over for white passengers. In response, Rudolph Giuliani launched Operation Refusal, which suspended the licenses of cab drivers who favored white passengers over black ones.

Now Hail This: Glover's much publicized outrage has spawned countless Internet parodies, aptly titled "The Danny Glove Cab Test." Watch it here.

4. Jimmy Smits

manifesto-jimmy-smits-yl-deHe may have his Masters in Dramatic Arts from Cornell, but for a brief period in the early "˜80s, Jimmy Smits played chauffeur to dozens of rowdy New Yorkers. The cabbie gig lasted only a few months, until he received the pilot script for a new show producer Steven Bochco was developing called LA Law. After failing to impress NBC Executives, Smits booked a $99 flight to the West Coast to audition for Bochco in person.

Now Hail This: As a struggling New York theater actor, Smits acted in off-Broadway plays during the day while driving a cab at night.

5. Paul Stanley

0_61_stanley_paulThe early days of Kiss were not very glamorous for Paul Stanley. His parents were convinced his obsession with rock music was just a fad, and threatened to cut off their schnorer son. What's a guitar wielding frontman of a dingy rock-n-roll band to do? Take a part time job as a cab driver, of course.

Now Hail This: One of the most frequent stops on Stanley's route was Madison Square Garden, where he would drive customers to see everything from Knicks games to Elvis concerts.

6. Philip Glass

070219_glassBefore he penned film scores for The Truman Show and Notes on a Scandal, Philip Glass was just another Julliard-trained composer struggling to make a living in New York City. It was behind the wheel of a cab that Glass worked on Einstein on the Beach, his most recognized opera. Glass loved the independence of being a cab driver, and he kept the job until he was able to earn a living from his music. Of course, financially, he is now the most successful living "˜classical' composer in the world.

Now Hail This: While still a relatively unknown composer, a female customer entered Glass's cab and recognized his music blaring form the stereo. Glass later surprised the woman by revealing his identity.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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